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Running to Shine a Light on Mental Health

Samantha Roecker, a Penn Medicine nurse and a student in Penn Nursing’s Family Nurse Practitioner Program, competed in the Boston Marathon. In the process, she raised more than $45,000 to help nurses struggling as a result of the pandemic, and she broke the world record for fastest marathon in scrubs.

Roecker has been running since the seventh grade, competing in high school and college, even qualifying for the Tokyo Olympic trials. But the Boston Marathon which she just completed—her 12th marathon since she ran her first in 2014—was like no other.

For one, Roecker competed in scrubs, aiming to set the world record for the fastest marathon in a nursing uniform. More important to Roecker, however, was her reason for running this particular race: to raise money in support of the mental health and well-being of nurses. In partnership with the American Nurses Foundation, she collected more than $45,000 so far.

“I have a lot of close friends who are health care workers who have suffered immensely during the pandemic,” says Roecker, who works as a clinic nurse in the otorhinolaryngology practice at the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine.

One of Roecker’s close friends from high school, a physician assistant in New York City, began struggling with mental health challenges after working for months in what became in the epicenter of COVID-19 in the United States. “She just saw so much she didn’t expect to see in her life,” Roecker says. “I’ve been trying to help her, to support her. I wanted to come up with something that could make her smile.”

Roecker started poking around and saw, surprisingly to her, that someone held the world record for running a marathon in scrubs. She decided trying to break that might be a good way to give her friend a boost. Roecker also knew there were so many more health care workers who needed support, too. Wanting to do more, she started talking to everyone she could think of, including June Treston, DNP, CRNP, who directs Penn Nursing’s Family Nurse Practitioner Program Track.

“She told me about her plans for the marathon in January,” says Treston, who, in addition to teaching Roecker, supervises her in her clinical rotation in the Emergency Department at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey. “I love Sam’s story. She has such compassion for her friend, enough to identify her needs and to navigate the waters of getting her help, understanding that there are so many barriers. She really turned it around to help all nurses struggling across the country.”

This is an excerpt from a longer story which was first published in Penn Today. It was written by Michele Berger, senior science communication officer, with accompanying photography by Eric Sucar.